New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has been reinstated to the NFL, winning an appeal of his indefinite suspension from the league on Friday.
Rice, who has been suspended since Sept. 8 for punching his now-wife in an Atlantic City Casino back in February, is now free to sign with any NFL team.
"This decision is a victory for a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent. This union will always stand up and fight for the due process rights of our players. While we take no pleasure in seeing a decision that confirms what we have been saying about the commissioner's office acting arbitrarily, we hope that this will bring the NFL owners to the collective bargaining table to fix a broken processm," the NFLPA said in a statement.
Former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones heard Rice's appeal earlier this month and ruled on Friday that Rice did not mislead NFL commissioner Roger Goodell when the running back said during a meeting with the league on June 16 that he "hit" Janay Palmer. Jones concluded that Rice did not say "knocked herself out" when referring to the incident that occurred inside an elevator of the Revel Casino.
Goodell initially suspended Rice for two games over the incident, but later banned him indefinitely for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy following the release of video footage.
The video rocked the league and also led to Rice's release by the Ravens on the same day Goodell announced the harsher penalty.
Surveillance footage showed Rice and Palmer entering the elevator at the now- closed casino. The two were standing next to each other before a minor shove. Rice then moved away and Palmer rushed toward him before he reacted with a quick left-handed blow.
Rice appealed the indefinite suspension at a hearing in early November, one in which Goodell testified. Rice and his wife also testified, as did Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.
"I do not doubt that viewing the video in September evoked horror in commissioner Goodell as it did with the public. But this does not change the fact that Rice did not lie or mislead the NFL at the June 16 meeting," Jones said.
"Because Rice did not mislead the commissioner and because there were no new facts on which the commissioner could base his increased suspension, I find that the imposition of the indefinite suspension was arbitrary. I therefore vacate the second penalty imposed on Rice."
The NFL Players Association argued the league violated labor laws by increasing Rice's punishment after the video surfaced. Goodell spent most of his time under cross-examination by outside players union attorney Jeffrey Kessler.
"Any failure on the part of the league to understand the level of violence was not due to Rice's description of the event, but to the inadequacy of words to convey the seriousness of domestic violence. That the league did not realize the severity of the conduct without a visual record also speaks to their admitted failure in the past to sanction this type of conduct more severely," Jones said in her ruling.
The 27-year-old Rice is a three-time Pro Bowler, rushing for 6,180 yards and 37 touchdowns in six seasons with Baltimore.
"I would like to thank Judge Barbara Jones, the NFL Players Association, my attorneys, agents, advisors, family, friends and fans - but most importantly, my wife Janay," Rice said in a statement released by the NFLPA. "I made an inexcusable mistake and accept full responsibility for my actions. I am thankful that there was a proper appeals process in place to address this issue. I will continue working hard to improve myself and be the best husband, father and friend, while giving back to my community and helping others to learn from my mistakes."